Columbia University Admits Submitting Inaccurate Data For Last Year’s U.S. News Rankings – Forbes

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Columbia University has expressed regret for submitting inaccurate information on two metrics used … [+] by U.S. News to rank the nation’s best colleges.
Columbia University has acknowledged, in an announcement on Friday, September 9, that it had submitted some inaccurate data as part of its participation in the college rankings done by U. S. News & World Report for the 2022 edition of its Best Colleges (published September 2021).
The revelation came as part of a message from Provost Mary Boyce that Columbia would now begin to submit data to the Common Data Set, an initiative by colleges and universities to provide a wide array of data to the public about their institutional performance.
The Columbia ranking foul-up began when Michael Thaddeus, a professor of mathematics at the university, posted a lengthy critique of the data that Columbia had submitted for the last year’s rankings.
As Thaddeus compared institutional data to the numbers Columbia had submitted, he questioned the accuracy of several of the self-reported figures, including the number of classes of various sizes, the percentage of faculty with terminal degrees, the percentage of classes taught by full-time faculty, the student:faculty ratio, and the amount Columbia spent on instruction.
At first, Columbia defended its data. But just before the July 1 deadline for submitting new data to U.S. News, Columbia changed its tune and, in a statement by Provost Boyce, said that the university had “embarked on a review of our data collection and submissions process.” U. S. News subsequently dropped Columbia from its 2022 rankings of national universities.
Friday’s statement from the university admitted that “on two of the metrics questioned by our faculty member, class size and faculty with terminal degrees, we determined we had previously relied on outdated and/or incorrect methodologies. We have changed those methodologies for current and future data submissions.”
With respect to class size, the university said that its previously submitted numbers were reported incorrectly and not in compliance with the U. S. News instructions, resulting in an “overreporting the number of classes with under 20 students and underreporting of classes with between 20 and 29 students.” In its revised calculations, Columbia reports that 57% of undergraduate classes had enrollments of under 20 students in fall 2021, 74% under 25 students, and 77% under 30.
Concerning the number of full-time faculty with terminal degrees, Columbia said that its previous methodology resulted in “some overreporting.” According to its new figures, it now reports that 95.3% of full-time faculty have terminal degrees.
In the announcement, Columbia claimed that its undergraduate experience “is and always has been centered around small classes taught by highly accomplished faculty.” But it added that “anything less than complete accuracy in the data that we report – regardless of the size or the reason – is inconsistent with the standards of excellence to which Columbia holds itself. We deeply regret the deficiencies in our prior reporting and are committed to doing better.”
Describing the instructions for completing the Common Data Set as “complex” and necessarily requiring interpretation, Columbia took a precautionary step in the form of asking that its compilation of that data from the University’s systems be reviewed by Ankura Consulting Group.


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